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Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi

January 12th, 2017 8 comments

Most Android TV box comes with DDR3 or DDR3L memory, but Mecool BB2 Pro comes instead with 3GB DDR4 memory that’s supposed to offer 50% increased memory bandwidth. That’s why I was interested in reviewing the box. I’ve already checked out BB2 Pro hardware in the first part of the review, so the second part will focus on the firmware, video playback in Kodi 17, and benchmarks to find out if there’s any improvement over other Amlogic S912 using DDR3 memory. It’s not the first DDR4 box I’ve tested however, as Eweat R9 Plus powered by Realtek RTD1295 processor also included DDR4 memory, but based on my tests, there’s was no noticeable differences with Zidoo X9S based on the same processor, but with DDR3 memory. But this time, we’ll see if it is any different with Amlogic platforms.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I connect a USB 3.0 hard drive to one of the USB 2.0 port, and a USB hub to the other port with two RF dongle for an air mouse and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard. I completed the setup with HDMI and Ethernet cables, and finally the power supply.

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The system will boot automatically when you connect the power, no need to press the power button, and the boot will typically take around 25 seconds. Please note the boot animation logo could with some music, so the boot is not silent, which may be annoying if you want to use the box while others are sleeping, and turned on the TV before the box.

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Click to Enlarge

The launcher will look similar to regularly readers as it’s exactly the same as the one found in K1 Plus, another TV box also made by Videostrong. The notification bar is enabled by default, but not the status bar which can be enabled in the settings. This option should really be present in all boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-appsThe list of preinstalled apps include the Play Store, Kodi, Netflix and others. You’ll also notice Kodi Updater, an app to update the likely-custom version of Kodi used in the box.

bb2-pro-kodi-updaterMy version was Kodi 17.0-Beta3 and was the latest available at the time.

The settings are also basically the same as in K1 Plus, and other Amlogic S905/S905X/S912 TV boxes. I had no troubles using WiFi and Ethernet, and set my resolution to 4k2k-60Hz supported by LG 42UB820T Ultra HD TV. Some less common settings include RGB mode (maybe to fix some pink screen issues), and Status bar (on/off), and there are settings for HDR and HDMI self-adaptation (auto framerate switching).

The internal storage has a single unified partition with 762MB used. The total capacity is reported to be 16.00GB but that’s obviously a hard-coded value, possibly to avoid customers complaining there’s not 16GB storage in their 16GB TV box box.

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The box could also mount NTFS and exFAT file systems in the USB hard drive. A FAT32 micro SD was also supported.

The “About MediaBox” section report the model number is BB2 Pro running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update appears to have been implement through “Update” app, but it would detect no new firmware, so I could not test it.
bb2-pro-about-mediabox Google Play Store worked just fine, except for Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband. Albeit it should be easy to fix, this is an issue common to almost all Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I also install the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

I had no troubles using the infrared remote control up to 10 meters, and the IR learning function worked too. However, I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since it’s more convenient in Android. I’d recommend an air mouse with keyboard and IR learning function (to be able to turn on the device) for the best user experience.

A short press on the power button of the remote control will trigger standby mode, while a long press will pop-up a window to confirm you confirm to power off the define. I could also restart the box from the power button from the remote and the unit.

Power consumption measured in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 1.0 watt
  • Standby – 1.3 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

Idle power consumption is the same as M12N TV box, but power off power consumption is a bit on the high side possibly partially because of the red LED that is quite bright.

This time I only measured the temperature on the top of the case, as the bottom is bright and my IR thermometer reported wrong values for the bottom. The top of the case temperature was 39°C max after Antutu 6.x, and 44°C max after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes. I also checked the soc-thermal value in CPU-Z after the games and it was 78°C, against around 55 °C in idle mode. Riptide GP2 played fine, but not perfectly smooth, like on other Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance was constant. I did not notice any obvious improvement over S912 TV boxes using DDR3 memory.

Mecool BB2 Pro feels like using other Amlogic S912 TV boxes with a stable firmware, and good performance overall, but again I could not really noticed any performance boost from DDR4 memory.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM info

BB2 Pro runs Kodi 17 Beta 3, or at least a custom version of it with TVaddons.org add-ons installed. I played most videos samples from a SAMBA share through Gigabit Ethernet.

4K video playback was OK, but for whatever reason I could not play any VP9 videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since the VPU does not support 4K H.264 over 30 fps)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) –Won’t play, stays in UI.

I also tried the 3 VP9 videos above with MoviePlayer with all I got was a black screen. That’s too bad, as I wanted to see if DDR4 memoryu would improve “Curvature of Earth” playback that is not 100% smooth on all other devices I’ve tested. Automatic frame rate switching is not working in Kodi, and MoviePlayer, so you won’t get perfect playback for 24 fps videos, unless you set the frame rate manually.

Audio support is not quite perfect, just like in other Amlogic S912 TV boxes I’ve tested. PCM output (stereo downsampling) works with Kodi, but not MX Player/MoviePlayer apps, and HDMI pass-through using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver is a disaster in Kodi, and somewhat works with MoviePlayer.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 (OK), but video not smooth Dolby D 5.1 – OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK Dolby D 5.1 – OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio Dolby D+ 7.1 – OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 5.1 – OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 7.1 – OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1 – continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1

BB2 Pro got 851 in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, a little less than in other Amlogic S912 based TV boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-antutu-video-testerThe three videos with “partial support” are exactly the same as on other devices.
antutu-video-tester-partially-supportDRM Info app reports Widevine Level 3 DRM is supported by the device.

bb2-pro-drm-info

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Network (WiFi + Ethernet) Performance

In order to test WiFi performance, I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage – and vice versa – using ES File Explorer, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps). The results are not that good, although download speed is quite faster than upload speed.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge!

Sadly those poor WiFi numbers are quite typical of Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Note that download speed for 802.11ac was 5.05 MB/s on average, so not so bad, but upload speed @ ~1.5 Mb/s brought the average down significantly.

For some strange reasons Gigabit Ethernet suffered from the same issue, as transferring a 885MB file took 50 seconds to download (17.7 MB/s), but  2 minutes 18 seconds to upload back to my local server (6.41 MB/s). I’ve never seen that problem on other devices. My SAMBA server is connected via Gigabit Ethernet and uses a SATA drive (not USB) capable of 100 MB/s writes.

Trying a full-duplex transfer with iperf confirmed the issue:

Asymmetric performance happens more often with iperf since transfers occur in both direction at the same time. Nevertheless there seems to be some minor issues with Ethernet.

Storage performance

We’ve already seen the system could handle NTFS, exFAT and FAT32 file systems for external storage, so I tested the performance of both NTFS and exFAT partition on my hard drive as well as the internal memory using A1 SD bench app.

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Note that both internal memory and exFAT partition had “cache reads”, which means reading operation was at least partially done from RAM. We can discard read results for both, especially since 65.71 MB/s is totally impossible over USB 2.0. What we can see however if that exFAT write speed is quite poor, but again that’s common to almost all TV boxes I’ve review. USB 2.0 NTFS partition read performance is about the best you can get through USB 2.0, and write performance is OK. The eMMC flash write speed is quite good @ 48.57 MB/s, so read speed is likely to be good too, but lower than the 104.58 MB/s reported by the app due the “cached read”.

Gaming

As I looked for benefit from DDR4 memory in this review, I was hoping that maybe games would benefit one way or other. Riptide GP2 with maximum graphics settings seemed to perform just like other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, that is… playable, but not extra smooth like on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced for example. Performance was constant over the 15 minutes I played the game, so I did not notice any overheating and throttling issues.

Mecool BB2 Pro Benchmarks

So far I have to say I could not notice any user experience benefit from using DDR4 memory, but maybe benchmarks could give a different picture. Let’s check CPU-Z first.

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The device is BB2 PRO (q20x) with 8x Cortex A53 cores @ up to 1.51 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU as expected. Other settings are as expected, and we can see the real internal storage capacity available to the user: 11.87 GB. That’s perfectly normal once we take into account the space taken with the bootloader and Android operating system.

Then I ran Antutu 6.x and compared the results to M12N TV box benchmark results.

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BB2 Pro got 363 points extra, but we can consider both devices had about the same performance. RAM test should be interesting and BB2 Pro was about 12% faster. So maybe there’s some benefit, but very minor based on those Antutu results.
mecool-bb2-pro-vellamo
Vellam score is about the same story with BB2 Pro getting 1,488, 1,020 and 2,811 points for respectively multicore, metal, and browser tests, against 1,103 (test failed to complete), 1,052 and 2,758 points on M12N. If we discard the multicore that failed to complete on M12N, results are basically the same.

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The last benchmark of this review, 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, shows a little improvement as BB2 Pro got 6,000 points against 5,732 points for M12N. But it’s hard to tell if it is because of the DDR4 RAM, or some improvements of the GPU drivers. If we look into details of the score, most of the improvement is with the Physics score & test (9263 point / 29.4 fps vs 8163 / 25.9 fps).

Conclusion

I have not been able to find a single use case showing a clear benefit from using DDR4 memory instead of DDR3 memory. Apart from that Mecool BB2 Pro works reasonably well, it feels fast enough and the firmware is stable. However, it also comes with most of the same caveats found in other Amlogic S912 TV box, including mediocre WiFi performance, lack of HDMI audio pass-through support in Kodi (except Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS HD 7.1 not working in the local player (MoviePlayer), automatic framerate switching not working at all, and for some reasons I could not play any VP9 in the device.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • Acceptable 4K H.265 and H.264 video playback in Kodi 17and MoviePlayer apps
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in MoviePlayer
  • Good internal storage performance leading to fast boot time (<25 seconds), and overall good system performance
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters and IR learning function
  • OTA firmware update support (could not confirm whether it is working since no new firmware has been released yet)
  • Option to disable/enable status bar in settings

CONS (and bugs)

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, except for Dolby Digital 5.1
  • HDMI DTS-HD MA/HR 7.1 not supported in MoviePlayer (uses DTS 5.1 instead)
  • BB2 Pro firmware won’t play VP9 videos; tested with Kodi and MoviePlayer apps
  • Mediocre WiFi performance, especially for uploads. Ethernet is also somewhat slow for uploads (no problems for downloads).
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through)
  • Power off power consumption on the high side (1 watt)
  • Boot logo includes some music (not too high volume, but it can be an issue if you start the box at night, and forgot to mute or lower the volume)
  • Google Play can’t install apps with Bluetooth LE requirement

I’d like to thank VideoStrong for providing a sample for review. Distributors and resellers may contact the company via the product page to purchase in quantities. Mecool BB2 Pro can also be purchased for $66.66 and up on Banggood, GearBest, and eBay, or  about the same as YokaTV KB2 with 3GB DDR3 instead of 3GB DDR4, but 32GB storage instead of just 16 GB, with the rest of the specifications being equal.

Eweat R9 Plus TV Box Review Part 2 – Android, OpenWrt, and HDMI Recording

December 24th, 2016 5 comments

Eweat R9 Plus is a device powered by Realtek RTD1295 SoC combining main functions: Android 6.0 TV box, OpenWrt NAS/router, and HDMI recorder thanks to its HDMI input port. It competes directly with Zidoo X9S which has the same features, except while Zidoo X9S has no internal SATA bay and your 2.5″ hard drive just hang outside the box, Eweat R9 Plus comes with an internal 3.5″ SATA bay that makes it much neater on your furniture… We’ve already seen that in the first part for review “Eweat R9 Plus unboxing and teardown“, and I was impressed by the hardware, but the software is even more important, and that’s what I’m going to check out in the second and final part of this review.

First Boot, First Impressions and Setup.

I’ve first inserted a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive in the device, and then I connected an extra USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI and Ethernet cables, two USB dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots, as well as U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV box to the HDMI input.

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Connect the power, press the mechanical power switch on the back, and the device will boot, typically in about 40 seconds, to the main launcher. There’s no setup wizard like in Zidoo X9S, so you’d have to change configuration separately.

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The top left corner includes status icons for USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and WiFi, and the top right corner shows the current date and time. The first time the time and date were not correctly update, and I did not get any IP address from my router… That’s because I connected the Ethernet cable to the WAN port, but once I connected it to the LAN port, everything worked fine. It’s just WAN and LAN markings are not quite correct…. Let’s go back to the launcher with 7 large icons, the “R9 Plus” icon is linked to Chrome browser (so we have two Chrome links), apps to the list of apps, EWMC links to Kodi 16.1, and 4K to the local file browser/media player. We also have 3 shortcuts on the botton that can be customized to your needs. Sadly, there’s no status nor notifications bars which can be a pain in some use cases. The small blue “rocket” on the of EWMC icon, is actually the mouse cursor (red in reality, but the screenshot app turns that blue).

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The system comes with a bunch of apps including Netflix, HDMIRecorder, and QuickSupport, and I could install my own without any issues using Google Play and Amazon Underground.

eweat-r9-plus-displayThe front panel display on the unit is a little more useful than most, as it will show the current time of the day when not playing videos or music, and instead display the current video time with 4K video player, but not Kodi, while playing media files.

If you are interested to find out more about the settings, I invite you to check the Settings section of Zidoo X9S review, as Eweat R9 Plus has basically the same settings, except only “Auto 1080p24” option is available in the Display section, Deep Color Mode (AUTO, 12-bit, 10-bit, OFF) is gone, and the Playback section is missing together with “Auto 29.97/59.94 Hz”, “Force SD audio”, “Enable low performance mode (less buffer for playback)”.

I could set the resolution (“TV System”) to 3840x2160P @ 60Hz without any issues, but I’ve noticed the video output will sometimes fall back to 720p or 1080p after a power cycle. I could not find any option to adjust overscan either, so I had some black zone on all edges of my TV. Those are issues, but the latter at least should be easy to fix via firmware upgrades.

Once I found that LAN is actually WAN, and WAN is LAN, I had no troubles at all with Ethernet and WiFi, and OpenWrt options are also exactly the same as on Zidoo X9S.

You only get 9.31GB of the 16GB in Android because some part is reserved to OpenWrt, but it still more than the 8.91GB I had on X9S. In theory it should be plenty enough, but after a day or two of use, my internal storage was completely full, despite not installing that many apps.

android-storage-fullEventually I found that since my 1TV hard drive had millions of files, Android’s “Media Storage” activity had created two very large databases. Disabling Media Storage fixed the issue, and after clearing the data from “Media Storage” I had close to 8GB free. Alternatively you can add an empty .nomedia files in the directory you do not want to system to scan, for example the root of the harddrive if you don’t want it to scan anything.

Going into the About device section, we can see “R9Plus” model runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17.

about-device-r9plusThe firmware is rooted, and OTA firmware update is done with SystemUpdate app, and I could upgrade from R9PLUS_V1.1_20161130 version to R9PLUS_V1.02_20161217 version which I used in most of the review. I had to disconnect the USB drive, or the update will fail. You can leave the SATA drive inside the box during firmware upgrades.

eweat-r9-plus-firmware-updateThe update went well, and did not mess with my settings, apps, and media files.

The included IR remote worked fine up to 10 meters, but I’d really wish higher end devices such as R9 Plus would ship with an air mouse by default. I had to jungle between the IR remote control and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse quite often depending on the app I used. Realtek apps such as HDMIRecorder, 4K media player, and File Manger may work better with the infrared remote control.

Eweat R9 Plus firmware is stable and responsive, but there are a few small bugs here and there that should be fixed, like the lack of screen scale option, video output resolution set by the user is not always used after a reboot, there’s no status nor notification bars, etc… I’d also wish such higher-end systems would come with an air mouse with keyboard by default to be able to fully control the TV box with a single remote.

Power Consumption and Temperature

Power control support is basic with only on or off, no standby or reboot, but the power consumption numbers are OK, albeit a little higher than Zidoo X9S, maybe because of the 3.5″ SATA drive instead of 2.5″ SATA drive:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 9.2 Watts
  • Power off + SATA & USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + SATA & USB HDD –  11.2 to 12 Watts
  • SATA HDD (Copy file to SAMBA share) + Play 4K video from USB HDD + miniDLNA in the background – 18 to 19 Watts

If you has a drive with many files, miniDLNA – enabled in OpenWrt settings as DMS (Digital Media Server) – will take a lot of CPU and I/O resources, so if you don’t need it, make sure to disable it. Idle power consumption numbers are with DMS disabled.

While there’s no standby mode, we’ve seen with Zidoo X9S that standby mode is not that useful as networking and drives are all turned off. It’s just must faster to boot than from power off mode. Most cheap Android TV boxes cannot handle more than one USB hard drive, but Eweat R9 Plus had no troubles with a SATA hard drive and a USB 3.0 drive. It might be possible to add yet another USB 3.0 drive, as the power supply has a 30 Watts capacity.

It’s no surprise that with a large metal case, the device stays relatively cool at all times. The maximum temperatures measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the device were 35 and 37 °C respectively after Antutu benchmark, and 40 and 50 °C after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 16.1 and 4K App, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM Support

R9 Plus comes with Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) and 4K app to browse and play media files with the internal player. So I’ve started by testing 4K videos with both. Bear in mind that while Realtek RTD1295 supports 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 60 fps @ 4K, H.264 is limited to 24 Hz, which will be a problem with you shot 4K H.264 30 fps videos with a camera or your smartphone, and 4K VP9 @ 60 fps is supposed to be supported, and with DDR4 memory I had hope some progress may be made here, but unfortunately the limit is really 30 fps, which could be an issue with some (downloaded) YouTube videos. Out of Specs videos are prefixed with OoO.

Kodi 16.1 4K App
OoO – HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) Not smooth Not smooth, although better than Kodi
sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) Not smooth OK
Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) OK OK
phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) OK OK
BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) Not perfectly smooth OK
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 Not smooth at all Not smooth
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 Not smooth at all, and artifacts Not smooth, audio delays
Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) 1st try: Still image (first frame) + audio
2nd try: OK
OK
Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) OK OK
Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) 1st try:plays a few frame, then freezes, audio still playing
2nd try: OK
OK
OoO – 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) 1fps, audio cuts Can’t play
OoO – Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) Not smooth Slow motion
tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) Unwatchable, and many audio cuts Not smooth audio cuts
The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) Not smooth at all, some audio cuts Not smooth, no audio

For some reasons Kodi 16.1 will fail to start playing some videos the first time, but play them the second time. Just like on Zidoo X9S – but worse – Kodi 16.1 implementation is not as good as the internal player, so for best user experience you’d have to use the 4K player. Automatic refresh rate switching works with 4K app, with 23.975/24Hz, 25 Hz, 29.97 Hz and 59.94 Hz with the latest firmware. It does not work at all with Kodi.

For so the audio tests, I’ve stopped using Kodi, and only used 4K app with PCM 2.0 downmixing and audio pass-through via HDMI.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK (DD 5.1), but wrong aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK (DD 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK TrueHD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK (DTS-HD MSTR)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK (DTS-HD HR)
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS-HD MSTR

So HDMI audio pass-through is working very well, and I did not experience some of the audio cuts I had on Zidoo X9S with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. Those may have been fixed since Zidoo X9S review however.

Below are a few screenshots from 4K video app starting with the list of storage devices/partitions…

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… the menu available once you’ve selected a storage device…

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.. and subtitle options while playing a video.

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I’ve also quickly tested Blu-ray ISOs (Sintel and Amat videos) and both could play. Finally, I play a 2-hour 1080p video to make sure the system can play a full movie, which I does.

Antutu Video Tester score (820 points) is a little lower than on Zidoo X9S (888).

eweat-r9-plus-antutu-video-testerBut the videos that failed are exactly the same:

zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-resultsDRM info crashed each time, just like on X9S, so there’s problably no DRM support at all.

HDMIRecorder App

Eweat R9 Plus HDMIRecorder, as its name implies, allows you to record video from an HDMI input source. It can record up to 1080p @ 30 fps using H.264 codec in TS or MP4 container format, with a bitrate up to 10Mbit/s.

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It will also record audio, and you can select the output with the “Path” field. It will create a new “hdmi” directory to store the recorded videos.

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Once recording has started, it will work in the background (see recording info in the top right corner below) and you can browse the web, watch other videos, and so on during recording.

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I could then connect to the device via SAMBA, and play with the recorded video with both Totem player ad VLC in my Ubuntu 16.04 computer.

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That part works fine, and looks similar to Zidoo HDMI In app, however it lacks some goodies like PiP support and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S. So if so those functions are important to you, Zidoo X9S clearly has an edge of Eweat device here.

OpenWrt and NAS functions

If you want to learn more about settings up OpenWrt on Eweat R9 Plus, I’ll redirect you to OpenWrt and NAS functions section of Zidoo X9S review as all features are identical.

You can control OpenWrt manin function in Android settings…

eweat-r9-plus-openwrt

… and fine tune OpenWrt settings through LuCi web interface.

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I tested SAMBA, FTP, and Bittorrent. Performance on Eweat R9 Plus was very good with FTP transfer at ~105 MB/s, and 40 MB/s for SAMBA file copy to the internal SATA, very similar to Zidoo X9S with respectively about 90 MB/s and 50 MB/s.

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Eweat R9 Plus FTP Transfer – Click to Enlarge

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Eweat R9 Plus SAMBA Transfer

Contrary to my experience with Zidoo X9S, BitTorrent worked just fine and the transfer quickly saturated my 20 Mbps Internet connection.

eweat-r9-plus-bittorrentBear in mind that firmware evolves overtime and it’s quite possible Zidoo has already fixed the issue.

This time I also tested OpenWrt opkg system manager to see if it would work. After connecting to the device through ssh, I tried to update the packages and it failed miserably:

So if you want to install packages, you’d probably have to build them yourself, or copy and install opkg packages built for ARM architecture manually.

WiFi Performance

We’ve already seen Gigabit Ethernet works perfectly above with transfers at 105 MB/s through FTP basically saturing the Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth, so I’ll only focus on WiFi in the network performance section. Eweat R9 Plus has excellent WiFi performance with both 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps), roughly matching Zidoo X9S equally good performance.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

All you need to know is that Eweat R9 Plus is one of the top devices for WiFi  for all devices I’ve tested over the year.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone with “Realtek Bluetooth”, however once I started transferring files from my phone to the device, I either got the message “Unfortunately Bluetooth has stopped”, and when lucky, the transfer was initiated with Eweat R9 Plus showing an overlay message reading “”Incoming file from another device, please confirm…”. That’s all good but since there’s no notification bar, and no pop-up window, I had no idea where to confirm the transfer, and it eventually time out. I could not test Bluetooth Low Energy, because all my device are either broken or lost.

Bluetooth is not completely useless however, as I could get Sixaxis to work with my PS3 BT gamepad clone, and I paired X1T Bluetooth earbuds successfully, and listen to a YouTube video.

Storage

Eweat R9 Plus could mount NTFS, EXT-4, and NTFS partitions on a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate expansion harddrive with only BTRFS failing to be recognized. A FAT32 micro SD could also be mounted in read/write mode, as well as my SATA drive formatted with NTFS.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 OK OK
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

A1SD bench app shows excellent sequential read and write for the SATA interface, a decent performance for all supported file systems through USB 3.0:

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  • USB 3.0 + NTFS – Read: 37.93 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + EXT-4 – Read: 37.67 MB/s – Write: 39.43 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + exFAT – Read: 37.04 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • SATA + NTFS – Read: 140.78 MB/s – Write: 86.30 MB/s

Eweat R9 Plus looks faster than Zidoo X9S using SATA + NTFS, but bear in mind that the hard drive used was different, so it may explain the difference. However, Zidoo was quite better for USB 3.0 using EXT-4 and NTFS, but quite poor for exFAT, which R9 Plus appears to support well.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I also measured internal storage performance, but unfortunately A1SD bench reported “Cached Read”, so the read speed is not valid. The write speed of about 55 MB/s is however, and this is quite good. The actual read speed in the chart below should be lower than 140+ MB/s, but usually read speed is faster than write speed, so performance should still be good.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and Beach Buggy Racing (with max quality) using a gamepad, and both games played perfectly well. Then I switched to Riptide GP2, again with maximum resolution settings. It’s started begin playable – but not quite 60fps – just like on Amlogic S905/S912 TV boxes, and Zidoo X9S, but then I noticed the image would freeze from time to time, and after a race was completed,  it may have a 10 seconds black screen before going to the main menu. So I checked the CPU usage in OpenWrt (SSH terminal), and notice miniDLNA with a high CPU usage. So I disabled DMS in Android’s OpenWrt settings, miniDLNA stopped running, and I could play the game for 15 minutes more without issues, nor performance degradation over time.

Eweat R9 Plus Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z.. R9PLUS (rtk_kylin32) model with a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU, so no surprise here.

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The device reached 36,076 points in Antutu 6.2 against 34,976 points for Zidoo X9S Antutu score.
eweat-r10-plus-antutu

There are a few potential explanations for the small difference: 1. R9 Plus firmware is more recent, 2. it’s winter here (~ 22 °C), and 3. R9 Plus has DDR4 ram instead of DDR3 RAM. However the strange thing is that R9 Plus RAM score is 3,046 points, but Zidoo X9S got 3,960 points which does not make any sense.

eweat-r9-plus-vellamo
Vellamo 3.x scores are pretty similar with R9 Plus getting 1,430, 881 and 2,539 points for respectively multicore, metal, and Chrome Browser benchmarks, against 1,457, 831 and 2,638 points for Zidoo X9S. So it looks like DDR4 memory does not help for any benchmarks, including 3Dmark’s Ice Storm Extreme.

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4,359 points for Eweat R9 Plus against 4,574 for X9S.

Conclusion

Eweat R9 Plus is a solid device, and I really like the internal 3.5″ SATA bay, internal and external storage, as well as networking performance is really outstanding too. However I would have wished the firmware to have fewer bugs, and just like for Zidoo X9S, Realtek RTD1295 SoC has some limited 4K capabilities when it comes with H.264 and VP9. Getting the optimal performance may require some tweaks like disabling some server services.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • 4K app plays 4K H.265 videos very well with automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio
  • Excellent Ethernet and WiFi performance
  • Excellent internal and SATA storage performance, and good USB 3.0 performance
  • NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are well supported
  • HDMI Input (up to 4K60 input) with video recording up to 1080p30 (4K input is also supported but record at 1080p30 max)
  • OpenWrt NAS functions such as SAMBA, FTP, and BitTorrent running at the same time as Android, as well as router functions thanks to its two Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Proper power handling with power off, standby, and reboot, and low power consumption in off/standby modes. The provided 36W power supply also allows the connection of multiple hard drives.
  • Dolby & DTS audio licenses are included, so audio will work in any apps
  • OTA Firmware update
  • Good hardware design with internal 3.5″ SATA bay

CONS (and bugs):

  • Realtek RTD1295 VPU limitations:
    • 4K H.264 up to 24 fps which will be an issue for 4K videos recorded with some actions cameras (GoPro/Xiaomi Yi) and smartphones
    • 4K VP9 up to 30 fps, as 60 fps is not well supported. This will be an issue for some 4K videos downloaded from YouTube
  • Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) is not really working that well with many 4K videos not playing smoothly (even those within specs) and automatic frame rate not working. So 4K app is recommended
  • No DRM support (DRM info app will crash)
  • HDMI input works, but does not include features like picture-in-picture and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S
  • You’ll probably have to use both the include IR remote control AND a air mouse or other input device to fully use the device. A air mouse specifically designed for the box would be a plus.
  • Scale screen option missing in firmware, so I had black edges on my TV the whole time (should be easy to fix with firmware update)
  • No option for status and notifications bars
  • Bluetooth file transfer is unreliable (crash) and there’s no way to confirm file transfer (related to notification bar above)
  • Tweaks may be needed (e.g. disable Media Storage and DMS) for optimal performance if you have a hard drive with many files.
  • The system will not always remember the video output set by the user (e.g. 4K 60 Hz set, but falls back to 1080p or 720p).

Eweat also lacks a community forum like Zidoo, but as long as they keep firmware updates rolling, it may or may not matter to you. Overall, Eweat R9 Plus is also a good device combining 4K TV box, OpenWrt NAS, and HDMI recording functions. Whether that’s right for you depends on your requirements and budget.

The manufacturer sent me the review sample directly. Distributors can inquire the company to purchase in quantities, but if you just need one or a few you can purchase it on Aliexpress for $175.99 plus shipping (about $200) on Aliexpress.

Merry Christmas to all!

YokaTV KB2 Review – Amlogic S912 TV Box with 32 GB Flash

December 15th, 2016 12 comments

CNXSoft: This is another review by Karl about Amlogic S912 based YokaTV KB2 TV box.

Introduction

Today we will be looking at Videostrong YokaTV KB2. Below are the specs from Videostrong website.

yokatv-kb2-specifications

This is my first S912 device so I had high expectation. I have been using it for quite some time now with no major issues. I received approximately 6 OTA updates since I started testing and some welcome updates have come.

yokatv-kb2-package

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-power-supply

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Build

When I receive a box first thing I do is take it apart and check out the inside. I was excited when I found out it had 32 gig of storage. It is not too common.

yokatv-kb2-bottom-case

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Then when I opened the box I was really happy to see an antenna that wasn’t soldered on. Makes it easy to add a different one. +1 for KB2. Then I noticed the heat sink. It seemed a little small. I was right, it runs warm.

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Simple Mod

First thing to do: get this baby running cooler. When stressing the box, the temperature got over 80+°C a couple times. It ran between 70 and 75 °C on average before the mod. The case is mostly plastic except the bottom cover. Bingo! A couple squares of 5mm thermal pads between the board and the bottom of the case and thermal issues are gone.

yokatv-kb2-thermal-hack

I started SetCPU and ran the built-in stress test, it tops out around 72 °C, and quickly cools after stopping the test. I put a square approximately where the CPU is and while I had it open, where the memory is although I don’t think it is necessary. After the mod, the box runs about 60 deg Celsius.

Antutu

For this test I use SetCPU to set the Min and Max frequency for the CPU to 1.5 GHz which is the max for this processor. It will give the best score.

yokatv-kb2-antutu

Network Test

I am not sure why my WiFi was slow on the tests below. I don’t have an AC access point yet. The best I have is N, maybe that is the cause. Some friends over on Freaktab are getting some really good speeds on AC with this box. I might have damaged something when I opened the box.

Below are the results but take them with a grain of salt. I do a simple file transfer test of a large movie with optimum conditions for WiFi then one in more real world scenario.  

5ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash

2.4ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash

Gigabit Ethernet from NAS to internal SD (This is as fast as my NAS can transfer)

kb2-gbe-nas-to-flash

Next is more real world where AP’s have more obstruction.

5ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feet2.4ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feetSome More Benchmarks and Info

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Apps

I’ve used several apps and only Netflix and Direct Now had some issues:

  • Sling TV
  • Netflix (SD) – Stopped working after updating the app
  • Kodi
  • Chrome – Chrome works really well. I open a bunch of heavy URL’s and it performs excellent. Nothing scientific here. Go to several sites that I visit daily and I felt no lag.
  • Plex
  • Emby
  • HDHomeRun
  • Crackle
  • DirectTV Now – Worked with some hacking
  • Player-MediaCenter App – I will admit it has been a while since I tested out this app. It acts as a DLNA receiver and Airplay receiver. I didn’t have much luck in the past but I tested on my one Apple device the screen mirroring worked.

At some point Netflix stopped working. Keep getting few seconds of video then error 0013 “Sorry, we could not reach the Netflix service….” Not sure if it is Netflix update or box update that caused the issue. I went back and did some more testing to narrow the issue down. If I reverted back to the Netflix that came pre-installed I had no issue.

DirectTV Now is a new service in the US. With some persistence I was able to get it running. Video wasn’t perfect but neither was it on any devices I tested. It was surprising that it plays better on KB2 then Nvidia Shield. It is mostly watchable but stutters some. It is new so hopefully ATT will get this fixed soon. I had to do a couple things to get it working. After Googleing and a lot of experimenting I used 2 apps from play store: Hide My Root and Fake GPS. I also had to make 2 build.prop changes: ro.build.type=userdebug to ro.build.type=user and ro.build.tags=test-keys to ro.build.tags=release-keys. I tried on a couple different boxes after figuring this out and seems to work universally.

Remote Control

The remote is big but there is a built in app that is pretty convenient. There are 4 color coded buttons on the remote that you can customize to launch the apps that you want through an app on the box. There is also a dedicated app button that brings up a listing of all the apps. Everything else is pretty standard. You can also program the remote to turn your TV on and off through a learning feature. But alas I still prefer either an air mouse or touchpad with full keyboard.

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-configuration

Status Bar

Thank the gods…there is an option to turn the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen off and on in Android settings…It is about a 50/50 split for people that like them and those that don’t. This was the first box that I have tested that gives the user an option.

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Audio Passthrough

All the below tests worked. I set Android to SPDIF. I tested with latest SPMC 16.4.2 and Kodi 16.1. Turned on pass-through DTS and AC3 and all the videos below worked with no clipping. I have a 5.1 system. If I didn’t have the AC3 ticked I would get no audio on some. First box with 100% working that I have tested on stock firmware.

yokatv-kb2-kodi-audio-pass-through-settings audio-file-list-dts-dolby-truehd4K Video

4k testing went well. I was able to play all videos smoothly with one player or another that it was supposed to play. Below are the test results. This box does not play 4k H.264 video @ 60fps per sec, so stutter is expected. Kodi and derivatives play best with amcodec turned off. The box ships with Kodi 17 beta but since it is beta, it is not very stable. I uninstalled it, and tested with Kodi 16.1 from the Play Store instead. I am not sure why 4k 8bit H.265 works better with amcodec turned on. I found the same results on S905x boxes. For the testing, I wanted to find the best overall solution and that is Kodi with amcodec turned off.

Test File Name With Amcodec Without Amcodec MX Player
23.976fps (in MP4) GoPro Epic Russian Wingsuit in 4K good
24fps (in MP4) SPRING 4K (ULTRA HD) good
25fps (in MP4) Burj Khalifa Pinnacle BASE Jump – 4K good
29.970fps, 51Mbps (hdmkv’s iPhone 6S 4K clip) iphone6s_4k good
59.940fps (in MKV) samsung_seven_wonders_of_the_world_china_uhd-DWEU wont play stutter stutter
60fps (in MP4) COSTA RICA IN 4K 60fps (ULTRA HD) w Freefly Movi wont play good
H264, up to 30fps Sony_Alpha_7R_II_video-test-4K good
H264, 50-60fps linkin_park_ultra-hd wont play stutter stutter
H265 8bit, up to 30fps LG_4K_View-the-Feeling good stutter good
H265 10bit, up to 30fps Samsung_UHD_Dubai good
H265 10bit, 50-60fps Samsung_UHD_7Wonders_of_the_World_Italy good
UltraHD HDR 10bit HEVC, 24fps Exodus_UHD_HDR_Exodus_draft good
VP9 The Curvature of Earth 4K 60FPS good not as good best

Alternate Firmware

Super Celeron has put together a nice modification of the latest stock firmware from 11/23. He cleaned up the firmware and made some adjustments to boot to bring idle down to about 1% and got auto frame rate switch working. See full changelog.

So to get 100% working pass-through and auto frame rate switching after installing the firmware above, as well as SPMC version 16.5.2. Codec acceleration is a little muddy at times. 4K files work best with amcodec off, and anything less work best with amcodec on. Below are my settings.

yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-automatic-frame-rate-switching yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-audio-pass-through yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-video-codecsConclusion

I had this box for a while now and used it as my main box and it has performed really well. Consistent updates from Videostrong is much needed in the box world. I hope it continues. Gigabit Ethernet performed really well. Pass-through working 100% is fantastic and will make a lot of people happy. Video support in Kodi is really good. VP9 support is not 100% but MX player gives everyone an option if they have movies in that format.

I would like to thank Videostrong for sending a review sample. YokaTV KB2 can be purchased on Gearbest, Geekbuying, and Aliexpress for about $68.

Beelink GT1 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Marshmallow Firmware

October 24th, 2016 27 comments

I’ve previously reviewed other Amlogic S912 TV boxes such as M12N MXQ Plus or Qintaix Q912, but Beelink GT1 has the advantage of being quite cheaper at $56 and up, but still come with many of the same features as more expensive devices. I’ve already posted pictures, and checked out the hardware design in the first part of Beelink GT1 review, so in the second part I’ll report my experience with Android, including video and audio capabilities, hardware features testing, and some benchmarks.

First Boot, OTA Firmware Update, Settings, and First Impressions

The device comes with two USB ports only, so I connected a USB hard drive to one of the port, and a USB hub to the other with the RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I completed the setup by adding HDMI and Ethernet cables, and connected the power supply to start the system.

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A typical boot will take 30 seconds, and brings you to the home launcher.

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You’ll find a section with date & time, and weather for your city, icon to main app (Kodi, Browser, Play Store, File Manager, Settings…), and a section with favorites, which the first time is empty, but you can easily add or remove icons as I did in the screenshot above. You’ll also have access the more favorites on the left and right of the main screen. If you’ve connect a hard drive, you’ll also get the annoying “USB device connected” window(s) at each boot just like in NEXBOX A95X TV box.

Android_6.0_USB_Harddrive

I had received the box early September, but now we are close to the end of October, so one of the first thing I did was to go to the list of apps, and start UPDATE&BACKUP app to check for any Online (OTA) firmware update.

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Good, so I could update 20160819 firmware to 20160902 firmware. It did not work the first time, as my USB hard drive was connected, but I repeated the update without USB mass storage devices connected to the device, nor a micro SD card, and it worked smoothly, and did not mess with my settings, nor the few apps I installed with Google Play at the time.
beelink-gt1-ota-20160930
I went to the app again, and it found another update, so I update to firmware 20160930. I would be extra nice, if this would be handled automatically, but that’s just a minor issue. The changelog is completely useless, as they just copy “1. Optimization system 2. Minor bug fixes” for each firmware update…

I did on more check, and this was the latest version when I started the review. But before testing Kodi a few days later, I checked one more time, and I found yet another version with the exact same changelog, but a new 20161022 version which I installed successfully.

beelink-gt1-ota-20161022

So the good news is that OTA firmware update is working fine, and Beelink is providing them fairly often at this stage. I’d also like it them to offer a detailed changelog the way Zidoo is doing.

The settings part is the same as on Qintaix Q912 Android TV box, except they’ve added HDMI CEC options, and removed “Power key  definition”
amlogic-cec-control
Some of the most useful options include:

  • Device
    • Network – WiFi, Ethernet, and VPN
    • Display
      • Screen resolution: Auto switch on/off, deep color mode on/off, 1080p24/50/60, 720p50/60, 4k2k 24/25/30/50/60/SMPTE, 576p50, 480p60, 1080i50/60
      • Screen position, Day Dream, HDR (Auto, On, Off)
    • Sound -> Digital Sounds -> Auto detection, PCM, HDMI, SPDIF
  • Preferences
    • HDMI CEC – See screenshot above
    • Playback settings – HDMI self-adaptation on/off (aka automatic frame rate switching)
    • More settings – Access to Android Marshmallow settings

My Onkyo AV receiver will detect Beelink GT1 through HDMI CEC, but as usual I can’t use the arrow keys on Onkyo remote to control the device. The Android TV box will also prevent me to turn of the AV receiver, even if HDMI CEC is turned off in the box. The only work around is to disable HDMI CEC (RIHD) in the receiver itself. It’s a bug common in all Amlogic TV boxes running Android 6.0.

about_mediabox_beelink-gt1The good thing with Beelink GT1 is once I configure video output to 4K 60Hz it will stay that way all the time, contrary to many other TV boxes, not only based on Amlogic or also other processors.

We can go to More Settings to access Android Marshmallow settings with all the usual options. The settings also report an internal 16GB partition, but it’s obviously an hard coded value, possibly to avoid some customer complaining about not getting 16 GB storage, but only 11 or 12 GB… The About Mediabox section shows Beelink GT1 runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 as per About Mediabox section. The firmware is rooted.

The included infrared remote control works OK, but the range is limited to 4 to 5 meters.  I’ve still used an air mouse for most of the review, since that type of device is more suited to Android, and a keyboard is included.

I had no problems with Google Play store, and I could install all apps I needed for review. I also installed the free version of Riptide GP2 racing game through Amazon Underground app.

The power button on the remote control will let you turn off, enter sleep mode or reboot the device, and it works… most of the time. For some reasons, at one point the box would just reboot, when I select the Shutdown option, and I could reproduce the issue 3 times. However, later one, the problem completely disappeared and turning off the device worked 100% of the time. I cannot remember if this was done before or after applying the last firmware update (20161022). You can also turn on the device from your sofa using the remote control.

Power consumption is not too bad, but bear in mind that Beelink decided to keep USB and Ethernet on in standby mode:

  • Power off – 1.0 watt
  • Standby – 2.0 watts
  • Idle – 2.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.1 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 4.0 watts (USB HDD + Ethernet still on)
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.4 watts

That’s an advantage if you download files in the background for example, but if you want to save power, then power off mode is recommended. Ideally, power off consumption should be a bit lower than 1.0 watt.

Beelink GT1 did not get overly hot during testing. The maximum top and bottom covers’ temperatures after Antutu were respectively 47 and 51 °C, and about 47°C and 59°C after playing Riptide GP2 for 20 minutes.

Based on several comments I had read last month, and earlier this month, about apps crashing, some green screen flickering, and even Kodi forums recommending to avoid Amlogic S912 TV boxes and giving the “Buggiest Android Kodi Box award of the quarter” to “any Amlogic S912 box running Android Marshmallow 6.0”, so I was expecting a lot of troubles with the device. However, my experience was actually pretty good, as the firmware was responsive, I did not experience apps crashing nor random reboot at any times, never saw the green screen issue, and as we’ll see below, Kodi worked reasonably well for a cheap device. So either I was lucky, or the firmware update since then, helped fixed many of the issues. This does not mean it’s perfect, as it still have HDMI CEC issues, small pointer at 4K resolution, and other small bugs.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 16.1, Antutu Video Tester 3.0, and DRM Support

Beelink GT1 comes pre-loaded with a version of Kodi, but I’m not sure which, as while in Google Play I saw a few apps needed some upgrade, and I just clicked on upgrade all, and I only saw too late than it would mean an “upgrade” to Kodi 16.1 from Google Play. But finally, I found it may not be a bad idea, as usually I test the pre-installed version of Kodi, but for that review I can see how Kodi 16.1 from Google Play works on an Amlogic S912 TV box.

beelink-gt1-kodi-16-1
Some piracy add-ons are installed in the box by default, and an installation from the Play Store, will not remove them. I first went to the settings to make sure Video->Playback->Adjust display refresh rate is set to Always, as I had already enabled HDMI self-adaption in Android settings.

I played all videos from a SAMBA share over Gigabit Ethernet, unless otherwise stated.

Starting with some 1080p (and 720p) videos from Linaro media samples, and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – Not smooth (software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Automatic refresh rate switching is not working as on most other Amlogic TV boxes. VP8 is not playing smoothly because it’s relying on software decide. More videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – Not smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK, excepting while panning in some scenes due to 60 Hz video output. If I manually switch to 24 Hz, the video is smooth.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Not quite perfect, but pretty much the expected behavior on most Amlogic devices. Dolby and DTS audio testing was then performed using both PCM output (stereo downsampling) through my TV speakers, and HDMI pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. Kodi audio options only allow DTS and AC3 pass-through, and there was nothing about TrueHD, nor DTS HD.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Video Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1 )
HDMI Pass-through
(Video Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but slow video No audio  DD 5.1, but slow video OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio Slow video, and no audio HDMI icon blinking on AV receiver
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio DD 5.1 with beep (the app switched to the DD 5.1 track in the video)
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1
DTS 5.1
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1

So that’s clearly not as good as more expensive Android TV box, as Amlogic S912 does not include Dolby nor DTS license (required for stereo downsampling for most apps), but it’s still slightly better than most cheap TV boxes, as HDMI pass-through works for DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 in Kodi, and TrueHD also supported in other video apps like Video Player or MoviePlayer. I did not notice any audio cuts with HDMI audio pass-through, as I experienced in many other devices.

Time for some 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (not supported by S912 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – ~1 fps, lots of artifacts (not supported by Amlogic S912 VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – SAMBA: bufferring a lot; USB HDD: Slow motion
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays but could be a bit smoother

So overall, 4K video playback is pretty decent on Beelink GT1.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso Blu-Ray ISO’s samples, and MPEG2 1080i videos could play just fine. A 720p Hi10p video could play smoothly with subtitle and audio, but 1080p is not smooth, as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Since Hi10p relies on software decode, you need more powerful hardware, and I expect Rockchip RK3399 based TV boxes to easily handle Hi10p 1080p videos, but not 4K ones.

I’ve also tested some 3D stereoscopic videos only to see if the device could decode them since my TV does not support 3D:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Black screen, audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

I also tested a bunch of other videos including MKV, VOB/IFO, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV videos and I had no problem whatsoever.A full 2-hour 1080p H.264 movie could fully play from the SAMBA share without issues

Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark reports 866 points, roughly the same as on other Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

beelink-gt1-antutu-video-tester

beelink-gt1-antutu-video-tester-partial-support
DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 is supported.

beelink-bt1-drm-info

Click to Enlarge

YouTube app could play videos up to 1080p.

WiFI & Ethernet Performance

I copy and paste a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate WiFi performance. Beelink GT1 achieved a lowly 1.7 MB/s on average with 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, but a more respectable 4.36 MB/s with 802.11ac (434Mbps Link Speed). It should be noted that download and upload speeds are asymmetrical, and downloads reach about 6.0 MB/s using 802.11ac, and ~2.2 MB/s with 802.11n.

Throughtput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Gigabit Ethernet works pretty well, as shown with iperf full duplex results:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair Beelink GT1 TV box () and Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone in order to transfer a few pictures. Smart Movement has no issue connecting and synchronizing data to my Bluetooth LE fitness tracker, and I could listen to audio through SPORTS-S9 Bluetooth headset.

Since the firmware is already rooted, so I tried Sixaxis app with PS3 Bluetooth game controller close as explained in the post entitled “How to Play Games in Android TV Boxes With a PS3 Bluetooth Controller“, and it worked perfectly. So Bluetooth appears to be working very well on that device.

Storage

NTFS and exFAT partitions on a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate hard drive could be mounted, but not BTRFS nor EXT-4 ones. a FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted in read/write mode.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

A1SD bench app confirmed results found in most Android TV boxes with USB 2.0 ports, with 30+ MB/s for read speed for both NTFS and exFAT file systems, but a much lower sequential write for exFAT (6.8 MB/s) compared to NTFS (22.37 MB/s).

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The eMMC flash performance is clearly above average at 57.60 MB/s read speed, and 30.71 MB/s write speed.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and as Beach Buggy Racing with the wireless gamepad are both games played perfectly, even with graphics set to the highest settings in the latter. Riptide GP2 had acceptable performance even with “highest resolution” setting, not quite as smooth as on devices with a better GPU, such as Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced, but as expect just the same as other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and the best Amlogic S905 TV boxes. I played the game for 15 to 20 minutes, and performance was constant throughout.

Beelink GT1 Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z. Beelink has not updated the firmware to reflect Amlogic S912 is actually limited to 1.5 GHz (1.65 GHz in best case), but apart from that we have the same values as on other S912 TV boxes. The manufacturer is Netxeon (Beelink is their brand), and the board is named q201_9377.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Antutu 6.x results varied quite a bit, with the first run achieving only 37,013 points, and another run around one hour latter getting 41,287 points, or about the same as M12N MXQ Plus TV box. RAM speed tests seems to be especially variable on Amlogic S912 devices.
beelink-gt1-antutu-benchmark
Vellamo returned results slighly better to what I got with Qintaix Q912, namely 792, 1,488, and 2,858 points for respectively Metal, Multicore, and Browser benchmarks, against 787, 1,422, and 2,336 points for the Qintaix device. M12N did not manage to complete the Multicore test.

beelink-gt1-vellamo
Conclusion

Beelink GT1 works relatively well for this price, with a responsive and very stable firmware, most features working just fine, Kodi 16.1 working with DTS and Dolby audio pass-through, very good storage performance, but of course you can’t expect the same level support as more expensive devices, so for example TrueHD and DTS-HD are not working, automatic frame rate switching neither, and there are still some bugs common to other Amlogic Android Marshmallow devices.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good 4K video support for VP9, H.265 and H.264 codecs in Kodi 16.1
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1 & DTS 5.1 i Kodi 16.1, plus TrueHD 5.1/7.1 in Video Player & MoviePlayer (and other video apps relying on Android APIs)
  • Fast eMMC flash leading to fast boot and app loading times
  • Good Gigabit Ethernet performance, and decent WiFi 802.11ac performance (with my setup)
  • Google Play Store works fine
  • Good Bluetooth support with file transfer, BT audio, Bluetooth LE, and Sixaxis controller (PS3 gamepad) all working
  • OTA firmware update, and frequent firmware releases (about once a month so far)
  • Support forums (with Beelink more or less active)

CONS (and bugs)

  • HDMI audio pass-through not working for TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1 in Kodi 16.1, Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi and other apps (e.g. Video Player)
  • Overall performance and user experience very similar to Amlogic S905 TV boxes, except for Android 6.0, VP9 and HDR support.
  • 802.11n WiFi performance under average (with my setup)
  • Potential issue with Shutdown not working all the time (it will reboot instead). N.B.: I can not reproduce it easily.
  • HDMI CEC bug keeps my A/V receiver on (when pressing the power button on the receiver), even when HDMI CEC is disabled (unless I disable CEC in the receiver itself)
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through). This would require Amlogic S912-H (Dolby+DTS) or S912-B (Dolby only) processor
  • Minor – Mouse pointer quite small when 4K video output is selected
  • Minor – “USB device connected” window(s) always autostart at boot time when USB mass storage device is connected.

Beelink GT1 price makes it attractive compared to other Amlogic S912 devices, but you don’t already gain much compared to cheaper, and some would argue more stable, devices based on Amlogic S905 processor, beside an upgrade to Android 6.0, VP9 video decoding, and HDR support.

I’d like to thank Netxeon/Beelink for sending the review sample. Resellers and distributors can purchase in quantities directly with the company, while individual will be find Beelink GT1 on Amazon US for $66.97, GearBest for $55.99 with GBGT1 coupon, and from several sellers on Aliexpress for $59.99 and up.

Amlogic S905 vs Amlogic S912 Benchmarks Comparison

September 19th, 2016 15 comments

Amlogic has unveiled three new processors this year with Amlogic S905X, S912 and S905D. The latter is not found in devices yet, we’ve seen Amlogic S905X is a bit slower than Amlogic S905, but surely Amlogic S912 with eight Cortex A53 cores and its “multi-core high performance 3D GPU”, namely ARM Mali-T820MP3 must deliver a significant boost in performance. I now have full benchmarks results for two devices: M12N MXQ Plus and Qintaix Q912. M12N is the fastest devices of the two according to benchmarks, and I’ve been told YokaTV KB2 has about the same Antutu score (41K points) as M12N, so I feel confident enough that we have relevant benchmark’s results to compare Amlogic S912 and Amlogic S905 performance using M12N (MXQ Plus) and MINIX NEO U1 TV boxes.

amlogic-s905-vs-amlogic-s912

The comparison table below contains scores for Antutu 6.x, Vellamo 3.x, and 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme. MINI NEO U1 runs Android 5.1, while M12N runs Android 6.0, so once/if MINIX NEO U1 gets an Android 6.0 results may differ, likely improve a little bit. It’s also possible Android 6.0 SDK is not that mature, and over time, Amlogic S912 results may improve somewhat too, but nevertheless the results give an overview of the performance that you can expect from devices today (September 2016). Results in green means Amlogic S912 is faster.

Amlogic S905 Amlogic S912 Ratio
CPU* Quad core Cortex A53 @ 1.536 GHz Quad core Cortex A53 @ 1.536 GHz +
Quad core Cortex A53 @ 1.0 GHz
GPU Penta-core ARM Mali-450MP ARM Mali-T820MP3
Antutu 6.x
Overall 38,032 41,303 1.09
3D (1920×1080) 3,979 8,782 2.21
UX 15,690 14,902 0.95
CPU 13,458 13,418 1.00
RAM 4,905 4,201 0.86
Vellamo 3.x
Metal 1,235 1,052 0.85
Multicore 1,589 1,422** 0.89
Browser 2,157 2,758 1.28
3DMark – Ice Storm Extreme v1.2
Total score 4,327 5,752 1.33
Graphics score 3,698 5,304 1.43
Physics score 10,689 8,163 0.76

* CPU-Z and other tools will report 2.02 GHz for both processor, since it’s what’s reported by the kernel, but the actual frequency should be limited to 1.536 GHz, although it might be possible to run up the clock to 1.65 GHz with a firmware change. Amlogic S912 is an octa-core processor using big.LITTLE processing, and the LITTLE cores are clocked at 1.0 GHz according to the values returned by the kernel.

** M12N firmware had a problem to complete one of the Multicore tests, so instead I used the results from Qintaix Q912 since all tests passed, and should be more relevant to the actual performance of Amlogic S912.

So overall, there’s very little performance difference between Amlogic S905 and Amlogic S912, except for 3D graphics where the Mali-T820MP3 GPU used in S912 has a slightly edge over the penta-core Mali-450MP used in S905, with performance improvements up to 1.43x in 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme graphics score. The Antutu 3D score is 2.21 times higher, but it’s because Mali-T820MP3 supports OpenGL ES 3.1, and Mali-450MP does not.

They are however other advantages of Amlogic S912 over Amlogic S905 TV Boxes including Android 6.0 firmware by default, 4K VP9 hardware decoding, and HDR (High Dynamic Range support). Now, if you don’t care about the last three, there are very little incentives to upgrade from Amlogic S905 to Amlogic S912, and if you don’t own a TV box yet, buying an Amlogic S905 TV box would offer a better price to performance ratio, all other specs being equal.

Qintaix Q912 Android Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0, Kodi 17, Benchmarks, etc…

September 18th, 2016 6 comments

Qintaix Q912 is one of the many octa-core Android boxes based on Amlogic S912 processor. I’ve already shown photos of the device and its internal design in the first part of Qintaix Q912 review, so today I’ll report the results of my testing with Android firmware, video & audio capabilities in Kodi 17 Alpha 3 (pre-installed), features supports, benchmarks, and other comment. I will also be interesting to find out how it compares to M12N TV box, also based on Amlogic S912 processor.

qintaix-q912-boot

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

I’ve connected all necessary cables including HDMI and Ethernet, added some USB devices including two 2.4 GHZ USB dongles for my air moues and wireless gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots, and a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 2.0 ports of the device. Once you apply power, the LED is turn red, and you need to press the power button on the unit ot the remote control to start the TV box. The front panel display will show “Boot”, and within a typical 40 seconds you should be to the launcher, after which the display will show the current time.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

It’s your typical TV launcher with large icon links to common apps or folders of apps (not customizable), and shortcut row will smaller icons that can be added or removed as you wish.

The Settings app is different from M12N. but basically the same as other Amlogic TV boxes.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The most relevant / notable settings include:

  • Device
    • Network – WiFi, Ethernet, and VPN
    • Display
      • Screen resolution: Auto switch on/off, deep color mode on/off, 1080p24/50/60, 720p50/60, 4k2k 24/25/30/50/60/SMPTE, 576p50, 480p60, 1080i50/60
      • Screen position, Day Dream, HDR (Auto, On, Off)
    • Sound -> Digital Sounds -> Auto detection, PCM, HDMI, SPDIF
  • Preferences
    • Playback settings – HDMI self-adaption on/off (aka automatic frame rate switching)
    • Power key definition – Suspend and resume, shutdown
    • More settings – Access to Android Marshmallow settings

By default, the box will select the high possible resolution on your TV, and for mine to was 4K2K SMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz), but I switched back to 4K2K-60Hz (3840×2160) for testing. Like with most Amlogic TV box, Qintaix Q912 has problems to remember my settings, and will often revert to 1080p60. One possible reason is that it is connected to an Onkyo A/V receiver before being connected to the TV, and sometimes the receiver is turned on, and other time turned off.  Once the receiver is turned on, I can’t turn it off anymore using either its remote control or the power button on the unit, as the box will always turn it back on. That’s a very annoying issue that’s been happening with all recent (Android 6.0) Amlogic TV boxes. This is some HDMI CEC issue, as if I disable HDMI CEC (RIHD) in the receiver the problem goes away. That however means I can’t control the TV over CEC using the receiver’s remote control anymore…

As mentioned in the list of “Notable settings”, we can access Android 6.0 settings through More settings icon, and configure other aspect of the device such as portable hotpost, printer, developer options, accessibility, printing, Languages and Input, etc…

A single 11.49 GB internal partition is used for apps and data, a capacity that should be plenty enough for most people. Just like M12N, Qintaix Q912 is running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 as per About Mediabox section. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update is currently not supported, but I could install the latest firmware (dated 06 September 2016) via UPDATE&BACKUP app using a USB flash drive. The company also informed me that network firmware updates will be enabled later on.

The included infrared remote control works fine, and I could use it up to 10 meters, where I started getting some misses (maybe 1 out of 10). The IR learning function worked too, as I tested it with the power and volume keys of my TV remote control. I still used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for the review, since it’s just much more convenient to use that the IR remote control.

The Google Play store worked better than on other box, especially since I could also installed Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Smart Movement. I also installed Amazon Underground to play the free version of Riptide GP2 game.

Power handling has been well implemented. The TV box will go into standby after a short press on the power button of the remote control, and into power off mode with a long press. As seen above, you can also configure the short press to go directly into power off mode. You can also turn the TV box back on using the remote control or the power button on the unit

Power consumption figures are also pretty good, since my power meter did not detect any power draw in power off mode, but standby mode appears to be pretty much useless:

  • Power off – 0.0 watt
  • Standby – 3.1 watts
  • Idle – 3.1 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 5.1 watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.1 watts

As we’ve seen with the teardown, Qintaix Q912 comes with a heatsink on top of Amlogic S912 processor, as well as a metallic  enclosure, but the board is not in contact with the case at all. Still, during use the case feels fairly hot, and actually feeling hotter at the touch that what my IR thermometer is reporting with top and bottom temperatures of  40 and 44 °C max after Antutu 6.2, and about 43°C and 46°C respectively after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

I did not find any major issues with Qintaix Q912 firmware, which I found fast and very stable, although I still got a couple of “Unresponsive app”. I also like that they kept the notification bar, albeit removed the status bar, and they still have that annoying HDMI CEC bug preventing me to turn on my A/V receiver. The device also have the exact some IPTV apps, namely FilmOn, Modbro, and Showbox, that I covered in MXQ Plus M12N TV box review.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi 17, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM info

Contrary to most other TV boxes I’ve reviewed which come with the stable version of Kodi, currently Kodi 16.1, or somethimes a fork, Qintaix Q912 is pre-loaded with Kodi 17.0 Alpha  3 built on July 31st.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

And like many TV box, they’ve also installed piracy add-ons, many of which are not working…

kodi-17-add-onsAnyway, I’m only testing local video playback in Kodi, and I’m done so from a SAMBA share using the Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Most Big Buck Bunny videos from Linaro media samples and Elecard are playing just fine:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – Could be a little smoother (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p: OK (ff-vp8 software decode); 1080p: not smooth
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Automatic refresh rate switching is not working in Kodi 17.0, at least in this device.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD_10Mbps_1080p_MPEG-4.avi (MPEG-4 / 10 Mbps) – Not smooth at all, barely watchable (msmpeg4v2 software decode)
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Won’t play
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Dolby Digital and DTS support was tested with four use case: PCM 2.0 output (stereo downsampling) or HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver, using Kodi and MoviePlayer apps.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Alpha 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Alpha 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Video plays in fast forward, without time to setup audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1 – continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1

Results are pretty much the same as other Amlogic Android 6.0 TV boxes.

For most videos, 4K video playback is not too bad in Kodi 17.0:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not always smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Some frames are “jumping”
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – 0.5 to 1 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth at all from either HDD or network
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK, except for one massive slowdown for 2 to 3 seconds.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, but I can see some frame drops from time to time

The video above were tested using 4K60Hz (3840×2160), and the video show properly, but I previously also tested 4KSMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz) and some black bands showed on the left and right edges of the TV. You can watch Kodi 17.0 setup and video playback in Qintaix Q912 below.

Blur-ray videos (Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso) and two MPEG2 1080i videos could play fine. I basically had the same results as on M12N for 10-bit H.264 videos with a 720p sample playing fine, but a 1080p sample not being smooth enough. Kodi 16.1 would enable subtitles by default in those two videos, but Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 requires the user to manually enable subtitles.

LG 42UB820T Ultra HD television does not support 3D videos, but my Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver does, and could detect 3D content (3D icon on) for MVC videos as shown in Zidoo X1 II review, and for others it’s still interesting to see if the box can decode them:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Won’t play at all
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on AV receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on AV receiver

I also played one complete 1080p H.264 video for 2 hours without issues through the network (SAMBA share), and I completed Kodi 17 testing by check out various video from my library with IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos. Most could play just fine, but I noticed some FLV video had no audio, and IFO/VOB files would not play smoothly at all.

MXQ Plus M12 previously achieved 865 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and Qintaix Q912 got a slightly lower score with 849 points.qintaix-q912-antutu-video-testerThe three “partially support” videos could not play smoothly enough.

amlogic-s912-tv-box-video-not-smooth DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 is supported.

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I also quickly tested YouTube, and it supports up to 1080p. Video samples can be downloaded via links in the comments section of that video sample post.

Network Performance for WiFi and Ethernet

Qintaix Q912 has a dual band WiFi module (AP6330), and I could connect to both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz access point, but no support for 802.11ac, so I only tested performance of 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz by copying a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage several times in either direction. The result is disappointing since the transfers averaged 1.69 MB/s, one of the poorest results among the devices I’ve tested. At least, even if the performance is far from outstanding, WiFi is very stable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

There’s also some asymmetry between download and upload speeds, with the former reaching about 2 MB/s. You may have noticed two external antennas on Qintaix Q912, but one of them is not connected to anything, and is only there to make the box prettier.

I found Gigabit Ethernet to be working well, and tested full duplex performance with “iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d” command line:

It’s not exactly reaching 1 Gbps, but in a TV box it should not matter than much, especially the device/SoC only support USB 2.0 ports.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could easily pair Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone to the box, and transfer a few pictures over Bluetooth, however I was not so lucky with my Bluetooth 3.0 headet (Sport-S9) which was not detected at all, and a Bluetooth 4.0 LE fitness tracker that was detected, but the TV box asked me for a pin number, which usually is not the case for this device, and pairing failed. I tried a few times and different pin code, and after pressing Cancel, the device (SH09) was shown to be paired… Sadly Smart Movement app used with the tracker would not find the device at all.

Since the firmware is rooted, I also tried my PS3 wireless gamepad clone with Sixaxis Compatibility Checker, and I could configure and use the game controller.

Storage

I used a 1TB Seagate USB hard drive set-up with 4 partitions, and a FAT32 micro SD card to test file system support.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

I also use A1SD bench app to test the two partitions on the USB hard drive (NTFS & exFAT), and read speed was OK for both (NTFS: 34.88 MB/s; exFAT: 39.88 MB/s), but write speed is better on NTFS: 16.08 MB/s vs 4.83 MB/s. I had to test exFAT on two different days. The first day I only got R: 4.83 MB/s; W: 0.97 MB/s, after running the benchmark twice on the partition, maybe because another process was busy going through the file system…

I ran A1SD bench again to evaluate internal storage performance, and sequential read and write speeds were decent at 40.36 MB/s and 12.94 MB/s respectively.

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Gaming

I’ve detailed gaming on Amlogic S912 using M12N TV box, and last time I could clearly see a different in performance between Amlogic S905 and Amlogic S912, although games like Riptide GP2 were still not clearly as fluid as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. So I expected the same results on Qintaix Q912, but I have to say performance feel just like on Amlogic S905 here: Candy Crush Saga and Beach Buggy Racing are both very smooth, but Riptide GP2 using max resolution settings had a lower framerate closer to Amlogic S905. Still performance was stable throughout my 15 minutes playing the game.

Qintaix Q912 Benchmarks

CPU-Z detects an octa-core Cortex A53 @ up to 2.02 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The info is correct from the Linux kernel point of view, but as we’ve previously seen Amlogic S912 is most likely running at 1.5 GHz maximum here.

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The device’s board is q6330, an information that can be useful if you want to try alternative firmware. Resolution is 1920×1080, total RAM 1775 MB as some is used by the GPU and/or GPU, and internal storage has a 11.49 GB capacity as reported above.

I was disappointed by Amlogic S912 benchmarks in M12N TV box, so I was expecting a little more in Qintaix Q912, but on the contrary the score was even lower at 35,966 points in Antutu 6.2.
qintaix-q912-antutu-6

Scores in Vellamo were also lower for Metal (787 vs 1,052)and Browser (2,336 vs 2,758), but better for multicore (1,422 vs 1,130) likely because Qintaix Q912 passed all tests, but M12N failed one.
vellamo-qintaix-q912
3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme confirmed the lower performance in benchmark with 4,713 points against 5,752 points in MXQ Plus M12N.

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That may explain why gaming did not feel thtat good. For reference, Amlogic S905 TV boxes typically achieve about 4,300 points.

Conclusion

Qintaix Q912 TV box works reasonably well overall, but they’ve decided to use Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 which does not bring much compare to Kodi 16.1, and does not perform as well with all video. Once we dig into benchmarks and play game, we also quickly realize the TV box has about the same performance as Amlogic S905 devices, meaning you pay a premium without any obvious benefits.

PROS

  • Recent Android 6.0 firmware that is both responsive and stable, and includes a slightly different launcher
  • Mostly fine 4K video support for VP9, H.265 and H.264 codecs in Kodi 17
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video MoviePlayer
  • Proper power handling, and low power off & idle power consumption
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Google Play Store support better than some other device (e.g. for Bluetooth LE app)
  • Bluetooth file transfer and Sixaxis controller (PS3 gamepad) working
  • Metal case with front panel display showing time

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, and DTS-HD even lead to black videos with no audio at all. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 used in the firmware does not handle video playback of all videos as well as Kodi 16.1 (stable version): e.g. issues with VOB, no audio in FLV, etc…
  • Performance equivalent to quad core Amlogic S905 TV boxes according to benchmarks and gaming experience
  • HDMI output mode is often falling back to 1080p60, even when manually set to 4K 60Hz. (The system may be confused when I turn on the TV or AV receiver on and off).
  • WiFi: Mediocre yet stable (e.g. no stall) WiFi performance. Only one external antenna used out of the two external antennas.
  • HDMI CEC not disabled by default and no CEC option. HDMI CEC bug keeping my A/V receiver on.
  • Bluetooth: BT 3.0 audio headset not found at all, Bluetooth LE fitness tracker detected, but pairing fails, and app can’t sync.
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through). This would require Amlogic S912-H processor.

I’d like to thank Qintex Tech for sending a review sample, and if you plan to order in quantities, you can do so directly from the company. The TV box can also be found on Aliexpress for $73.50 and up, or Amazon US for $122.

Vernee Apollo Lite Helio X20 Smartphone Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

September 11th, 2016 9 comments

I’ve already taken pictures and shown Antutu benchmark in the first part of Vernee Apollo Lite review, an Android 6.0 smartphone powered by Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core processor. Now that I’ve had time to play with the phone for over 10 days, I’ve ready to report my experience and write the second part of the review about performance, features, and issues I encountered with the phone.

vernee-apollo-lite-mediatek-helio-x20-smartphone

General Impressions

First, the build quality feel pretty good, the phone is light and slim. I’ve only called once or twice, and voice quality was good, but I mostly use my phone over WiFi to browse the web, check emails, watch YouTube, and access social networks. More rarely, I also use GPS while running and during trip, and play some games. To be honest, the first few days did not work as expected, as many apps would either be much slower than last year Iocean M6752 smartphone or failed to start entirely with the message “Unfortunately app has stopped”. Fortunely, I eventually found that Android 6.0 Adoptable Storage was the source of those two issues, as when I installed a 32GB Class 10 micro SD card I used as storage device, and most app would install on the micro SD card, which has very good sequential speeds, but terrible random I/Os performance. The latter explain apps were not always responsive, and some apps simply don’t like to be installed on an SD card – at least on Apollo Lite Android firmware – like Firefox or MAPS.me, while others lose the ability to access Widget such as Adsense. Once I found out about the issue, I moved most apps back to internal storage, and everything felt much faster, and I could run Firefox, MAPS.ME, and access Adsense Widget.

However, I have to say it’s hard to really notice a big difference in terms of performance between my older Mediatek MT6752 octa-core Cortex A53 based Iocean M6752 phone, and Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core Cortex A72/A53 based Vernee Apollo Lite phone for most tasks, except for some 3D games, and handling large PDF files.

One big improvement over Iocean phone is the battery, since it’s much bigger on Vernee Apollo Lite, and usually last well over 24 hours with 3 to 4 hours of active browsing and/or YouTube watching per day. Charging is much faster too, and while Iocean would take over 3 hours to charge, I can charge Apollo Lite in just one hour from about 10% to 100% thanks it is fast Pump 3.0 charger. Overnight battery discharge rate is however a little high with WiFi and 3G (calls) enabled, as the charge goes down between 20 to 25%, meaning if my phone was fully charge before going to bed, I’d only get 75 to 80% charge in the morning.

Once I found a workaround for the issues related to adoptable storage, I was very happy with the phone, although a better rear camera, and slightly more accurate GPS would have been a bonus.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMarks

I’ve reproduced Antutu 6.2.1 benchmark results for people who have not read the first part of the review.

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A comparison with other models reveals Apollo Lite is right between 360 N4 smartphone (also based on Helio X20 processor) and iPhone 6 performance.

antutu-6-2-1-vernee-apollo-lite

Vellamo benchmark shows Vernee Apollo Lite performance is roughly equivalent or even a little better than Samsung Galaxy S6 with Exynos 7420 Octa processor, or LG G Flex 2 with Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

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So far, I’ve always tested graphics performance using 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme in my mobile and TV box reviews, but the ARM Mali-T880 GPU found in Mediatek Helio X20 SoC is a bit too fast for the task, and the score maxed out, despite frame rate not always topping at 60 fps.

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So instead I ran Ice Storm Unlimited, where Apollo Lite score 15,637 points, which almost places it in the top 200 Android & iOS devices for this benchmark.

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The GPU also supports 3Dmark Sling Shot, the reference benchmark for OpenGL ES 3.1, and the smartphone got 995 points. Since there are less OpenGL ES 3.1 capable devices, or simply because this benchmark is less popular, Apollo Lite would be ranked in 68th position among phones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

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Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

A1 SD Benchmark app was use to test the performance of the internal storage (32GB eMMC flash), and my micro SD card, and Vernee seems to have gone with a cheaper eMMC flash only capable of 36.25MB/s read speed, and 12.05 MB/s write speed. The Class 10 SD card I used has much higher performance with 92.76MB/s and 55.92 MB/s write speed. However, you must remember those are sequential speed tests, and for app IOPS also matter a lot, and based on my experience app installed in internal memory run much faster than the one installed in the SD card, so that’s something to keep in mind.

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You can see from the chart below with mobile devices (smartphones / tablets) with a green dot, that Vernee Apollo Lite does not exactly have the fastest storage.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I transfered a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer three times to test 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz and 802.11ac performance, and I placed the smartphone in the exact same location where I usually review TV boxes and development boards in order to have results that can be comparable.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The results are quite surprised because Vernee Apollo Lite has both one of the worst WiFi performance with 802.11n @ 2.4GHz averaging 1.4 MB/s, and one of the best 802.1ac performance averaging 6.5 MB/s in my environment. Download and upload speeds are similar with 802.11n, but there’s an asymmetry with 802.11ac, as downloads average 9.5 MB/s, and uploads only 5 MB/s.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

I’ve taken photos with different focus points, and light conditions using “high quality” settings with renders 5376×3024 resolution JPEG images with quality set to 95. You can find 26 photo samples in the linked Google Photo album.

Click to Access Photo Album

Click on the Image to Access the Photo Album

The way the camera focus works is a little weird, as it only relies on focus before you press the button, and once you press the button, it assumes focus is already done, and shots immediately. In my case, this led to many pictures looking a little blurry or washed out due to a lack of good focus.

I also shot two videos using the default settings (medium). The first one during day time.

Video details: 3gp container, H.264 video codec @ 17087 kbps, MPEG-4 AAC stereo @ 48,000 Hz / 12 kbps, 1920×1080 resolution, 30 fps.

The second one during night time.


Video details: 3gp container, H.264 video codec @ 8250 kbps, MPEG-4 AAC stereo @ 48,000 Hz / 12 kbps, 1920×1080 resolution, 14 fps.

So overall, the rear camera is clearly not the strong point of this smartphone.

Front Camera

I’ve also take a few pictures with the front camera, which can be found in a Google Photo album. The images native resolution is 2560×1920.

vernee-apollo-lite-front-camera

Click on the Image to Access the Photo Album

I also made a 1h30 video call with Skype using the front camera, and the quality was perfectly satisfying.

Video Playback

I manually installed Antutu Video Tester 3.0 app in the phone in order to evaluate video playback, and Apollo Lite got 849 points, which remains acceptable, but still not reaching the best devices that achieve a little over 1,000 points.

vernee-apollo-lite-antutu-video-tester-3-0

The partially supported videos were so, because of failed audio playback of AC-3, DTS, and Flac audio.

vernee-apollo-lite-audio-failure Seven videos completely failed to play, but it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason since for example, MKV files could be played, as well as videos with AVC codec, but a particular MKV + AVC video failed to play at all.

vernee-apollo-lite-video-failure

Battery Life

Vernee Apollo Lite battery is the most significantly improved over my previous phone. The large 3,180 mAh battery allows for well over 24 hours of use, with my typical use case being 3 to 4 hours a day browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, and checking emails. My previous phone, Iocean M6752, would barely last from morning to evening, but not quite reaching bed time.

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Another big improvement is that charging from basically 0% to 100% just takes one hour, while Iocean M6752 would take 3h30 to charge to 100% (one hour to 90%) while new, and 18 months, it’s even slower to reached an acceptable charge level.

In order to give a more formal evaluation of battery life, I ran LAB501 Battery Life app‘s web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming tests. I started from a full charge until the battery  level reached about 15%, with Wi-Fi & cellular (3G, no data) enabled, and brightness set to 50%.

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Vernee Apollo Lite results

  • Browsing (100% to 15%) – 467 minutes (7h47).
  • Video (100% to 15%) – 396 minutes (6h36), or about 3 to 4 typical movies.
  • Gaming (100% to 15%) – 261 minutes (4h21)
vernee_apollo_lite-battery

Battery life in minutes

Vernee Apollo Lite’s 3,180 mAh battery, compares to the 2,300 mAh battery in Iocean M6752 smartphone, and 3,550 mAh battery in Infocus CS1 A83 7″ tablet.

The only real downside about battery life is that “Phone Idle” may consume a little too much, as the battery level drops between 20 and 25% overnight. Some members of Vernee complained about this since “OTA-2” firmware update, so a subsequent firmware update may improve this.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

I could pair the phone with other Android devices, and transfer photos and files between them. Bluetooth LE works fine too, as I could retrieve fitness data from my Bluetooth 4.0 smart fitness band using Smart Movement app. I also used a Bluetooth 3.0 audio headset successfully.

GPS

GPS fix is super fast, as test with GPS Test, and maps app such as Google Maps or MAPS.ME. Accuracy is not perfect however when using Nike+ Run Club, the new version of Nike+ Running. The screenshot above shows the map and running path as shown from the app when WiFi and GPS “High accuracy” are enabled, and when only GPS device is used with WiFi disabled.The latter was tested since I’ve previously found out that disabling WiFi could greatly improve GPS accuracy.

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I follow a road around a stadium, so it should be a nice regular ellipse like shape, and it’s not perfect both in “High accuracy” mode with GPS , WiFi, and Cellular network, and in “Device only” mode with WiFi disabled. It’s basically the same. The undulations are about 5 to 15 meters which may be within GPS accuracy (TBC).

One problem I have with Nike+ Run Club is that the screen will turn off after 30 seconds (or whatever settings are set in Android), while the old app Nike+ Running had no such issues. I’ve worked around the issue by setting Settings->Display->Sleep to 30 minutes in Android settings before I go for a run.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 all played very smoothly as expected with an ARM Mali-T880 GPU. So I tried a more demanding 3D racing games with CSR Racing 2, and again it felt the game was rendered at 60 fps, or close to this framerate.

Others

Multitouch app reports the touchscreen supports 5 touch points. The smartphone looks like it has stereo speakers since it has two sets of holes on the bottom side. However, I can mute the phone, by covering one of the hole… I’d say audio quality through the speaker is only average, and I recommend using headphones whenever possible, or external speakers. I also find myself often muting the phone inadvertently by placing my thumb right on the speaker location. It would have been much better to place the speaker on the back of the phone instead.

Video Review

If you’d rather see the smartphone in action, I’ve shot a video showing some of the settings, benchmark results, the camera function, GPS fix speed, gaming with Riptide GP2 and CSR Racing 2, handling a large PDF, and show there are no stereo speakers, but only one speaker.

Conclusion

Vernee Apollo Lite has good firmware, fast and stable (after I moved apps to internal storage), with performance similar to Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 according to benchmarks, 802.11ac performance is one of the best I’ve seen, and the battery life is much better (~ 24 hours) and charging times much shorter than my previous Mediatek phone.. However it’s not quite perfect, as the camera does not always deliver pretty pictures, which has probably more to do with the firmware than the hardware itself, the company has gone cheap with the eMMC flash, 2.4 GHz 802.11n performance is poor, despite being stable,

PROS

  • Fast Mediatek Helio X20 (M6797) deca-core processor
  • Plenty of memory (4GB RAM)
  • Good 1920×1080 display
  • Excellent Wi-Fi 802.11ac performance
  • Outstanding gaming performance
  • Long battery life, and short charing time (~1 hour)
  • Fast GPS fix, and relatively accurate
  • OTA firmware update support
  • Support forums

CONS

  • Photos taken with the rear camera are not always very clear, with what looks like an auto-focus issue.
  • 4K video recording is supported by Helio X20, but not implemented in the current firmware.
  • Adoptable storage option with micro SD card may cause problems with apps crashing or losing features like widget support.
  • Poor WiFi performance while using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz (with my router)
  • eMMC flash with average performance leading to longer boot time (~35 to 40 seconds) and app loading times (CSR Racing 2 feels especially slow to load races)
  • The back of the phone gets rather warm when running benchmarks or playing games.
  • Mono speaker only, and quality is just average. It’s also poorly placed on the bottom side of the phone where it is easy to cover it up.
  • GPL source code not released yet

Tomtop kindly sent Apollo Lite smartphone for review, and if you are interested in the phone, you could consider purchasing it from them for $209.99 including shipping with ApolloLite068 coupon. There are also several other sellers offering the phone including GearBest, GeekBuying, eBay, and Aliexpress for $227.99 and up.

Zidoo X9S Realtek RTD1295 Android & OpenWrt TV Box System Info & Benchmarks

September 9th, 2016 19 comments

Zidoo X9S is the first Android TV box based on Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor that I’ve received for review. So in this post, I’ll show some system information with CPU-Z, and Android & OpenWrt Settings, and run typical Android benchmarks such as Antutu 6.x, Vellamo, and 3Dmark.

Zidoo X9S / Realtek RTD1295 Android System Info

CPU-Z detects Realtek RTD1295 is a quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor clocked between 600 MHz and 1.4 GHz with an ARM Mali-T820 GPU, and uses an unknown governor… But in adb shell, tje command “cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpu0/cpufreq/scaling_governor” reports an ondemand governor is used.

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The system runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17 (I think it’s the first time I see a Linux 4.x kernel used in a TV box…), and with 1920×1080 resolution. Total RAM is shown to be 1672 MB, most probably because some RAM is reserved for the GPU and VPU out of the 2GB RAM. There’s only 8.91 GB internal storage out of the 16GB eMMC flash, which is quite lower than on other TV boxes, but there’s at least one reason for this: OpenWrt is also running in the box. Zidoo however told they plan to optimize this in order to offer more space to the user.

realtek-rtd1295-storage-ntfs-exfat-ext4-sata-usb3Another interesting aspect of Realtek RTD1195 is support for USB 3.0 and SATA storage, and with the 12V/3A power supply that comes with the box, I could connect both a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port, and a SATA drive (CNXSoft shown above) to the external port.  My USB 3.0 drive has 4 partitions, and with the exception of BTRFS, all other file systems could be mounted: NTFS, exFAT, and EXT-4. NTFS is implemented with Paragon NTFS, a commercial implementation, which usually delivers much better performance than NTFS-3G.

Zidoo X9S / Realtek RTD1295 OpenWrt System Info

So let’s have a look at OpenWrt. First I can see some OpenWrt process within Android using adb shell:

and I also scan Zidoo X9S IP address from my Ubuntu machine to discover a few oen ports:

So there are port SSH and HTTP ports running, but you can’t access SSH just yet, as you need to set the root password first. To do, you can access the configuration page from Zidoo (http://127.0.0.1), or any browser on your LAN (http://[ZIDOO-X9S IP address]). zidoo_openwrt_rtd1295_luciIt should redirect you to LuCI interface, and you can login with no root password. There’s a security issue here, as your personal files may be exposed if you forget to set the root password, or to disable OpenWrt if you don’t need it.

zidoo-openwrt_set_password In order to set the root password, go to System->Administration input your password, and click on Save & Apply.

Now that we have configured the system, we can check the status, and see that it’s running OpenWrt Chaos Calmer 15.04.

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You can also enable/disable some OpenWrt services within Android itself by going to Settings->More->Openwrt Settings.

Zidoo X9S / Realtek RTD1295 Benchmarks

Zidoo X9S got 34,973 points in Antutu 6.x, in the expected range for a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz. The result is  a little lower than  Antutu 6.x for Amlogic S905 processor @ 1.5 Ghz.

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The 3D score is quite faster thanks to the Mali-T820MP GPU, but UX, CPU and RAM scores are lower.

Moving on to Vellamo, Zidoo X9S got 1,457 for Multicore, 831 for Metal, and 2,638 for Browser using Chrome (the stock browser is not an option in X9S firmware). This compares to 1,589 for Multicore and 1,235 for Metal achieved by MINIX NEO U1 TV box based on Amlogic S905 SoC. The browser score for the latter (2,157 points) is not directly comparable since it was done with the stock Browser, not Chrome.
vellamo_zidoo-x9s
Finally, I’ve tested 3D graphics performance again using 3D Ice Storm Extreme 1.2.

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The total score (4,574 points) is surprisingly only slightly higher than on Amlogic S905 with Mali-450MP GPU (4,327), and significantly lower than on Amlogic S912 with ARM Mali-T820MP3 (5,752), which is supposed to have the same GPU as Realtek RTD1295, maybe it’s clocked lower on the latter, or RAM performance has an impact on the score. Zidoo X9S does not come with any heatsink on the processor, but instead a metal shield covered with “graphite nano thermo material”, so it might be a cooling issue too.